Updated: Feb 28, 2021
Even though I've founded a company that wishes to be eco-friendly, the truth is that we, as a company, are still learning what that means. We would like to learn how to speak tree. I don't think I am alone. I think we are all learning how to adapt our habits and make them sustainable, so we can save our world.
Often fixing the problem is placed on the shoulders of the consumer. We're told as customers that we should bring reusable bags to the grocery store, avoid plastics, and don't use straws. But the vast majority of waste is not any individual's fault. Any one person, in changing their habits, cannot create the seismic cultural change that we need.
The catalyst needs to occur in company boardrooms. Companies and countries need to innovate and regulate to save the environment. But just because companies need to make those decisions doesn't mean that individual action isn't important. Just the opposite!
That is why I am learning how to speak tree, and you should, too. For me, speaking tree means harnessing the power of your actions to inspire change. (Actions speak louder than words, right?) The greatest symbolic action you can make is deciding where to spend your money. Companies react to what consumers want. If you insist that they be eco-friendly or else, you force their hands to do what's right.
I am now both an individual and the owner of a small business, which increases my responsibility to follow through with my beliefs and not allow a bottomline to shape my ethics. As a person with business interests, I had a moment where I considered selling fast fashion. Currently, the majority of our store products are from a print on demand site, which has a customizable catalog. Only a handful of that site's products are eco-friendly. The ones that aren't tend to be cheaper. As a business person, my instinct was to sell both. My reasoning was that certain customers would prefer the affordable option, and I wished to have items in the store for everyone.
Oak Tree Comics' creative director, Amelia Boscov, provided the needed voice of reason. She reminded me of the company's morals, and she was right. A company cannot aspire to tell stories that inspire environmental and social change if it neglects its ethics. Selling fast fashion would be an obvious failing of those morals.
From a business standpoint, I think we will actually thrive because of the decision not to sell cheap merchandise, and I believe our prices can still be affordable while being environmentally-minded. Being an e-commerce business, Oak Tree Comics does not need to sell an item at a certain profit margin just to justify the square footage of a physical location. So long as we sell the item for more than its cost, we'll make some money and do well. Because of our business model, I believe and hope we will be able to make environmentalism affordable for everyone.
All of this, more or less, is a long-winded way of saying that we do not and never will prioritize profit over the environment.
So, what's wrong with fast fashion? Why don't we sell it? And why should we all, as consumers, avoid buying brands that do?
After the oil industry, fashion is the world's largest polluter. The fashion industry produces 10% of all carbon emissions. To grow cotton and manufacture goods, the fashion industry is also the second largest consumer of the world's water supply.
Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of clothing ends up in a landfill or burned. The amount of clothing Americans throw out each year has doubled over the past twenty years from 7 million to 14 million tons. To help quantify how much waste that is, picture a million overweight elephants. Maybe a fun image but a sad fact.
Due to the plastics in our clothes, every time you run your laundry, an estimated hundreds of thousands of microfibers end up in the water supply and contribute to ocean pollution, affecting the ecosystems and animals that live there.
And that's just a brief overview of environmental problems caused by the fast fashion industry. It also negatively impacts millions of worker world-wide who are underpaid and endure inhumane working conditions.
So, what is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is clothing produced cheaply to keep up with and accelerate the latest trends. Over the past twenty years, companies have shifted to producing clothing more and more quickly, so you will buy more of it. The clothes are designed to fall apart after a few years, so you end up throwing out more clothes, as well.
How to fix the problem? Here are 5 easy practices that I am trying to adapt. You can, too.
1. Do not buy from companies that use a fast fashion business model. This article lists 25 brands to avoid and why.
2. Buy from sustainable brands. Thrift shops, too!
3. Buy less but better quality clothing that lasts longer. One of the main problems is that people get rid of their clothes too quickly. Spend a little more, and you may save money in the long run because the clothes will be made better.
4. Wash clothes less. I'm not advising you stink up the place like a smelly monster, but maybe that shirt you wore for a few hours doesn't need to go into the hamper yet.
5. Read up on fast fashion and then talk about it with a friend. The more you care about solving the problem and share your passion, the more the world around you will listen and, hopefully, change.